toy house with a kit hat and scarf around it.

7 Ways to Heat Your Home

7 Ways to Heat Your Home

When you think of home, what comes to mind? For many of us, thoughts of home bring to mind a warm, cozy atmosphere with a toasty fireplace in the living room. A warm home brings comfort and security, a safe haven for your family. But how do you actually heat your home? What are the types of heating systems, and how do you know what is the best option for your home? In the United States there are several options available including forced air furnace, baseboard heating, heat pumps, split duct system, fireplaces, geothermal heating, and secondary heaters. This article will go through these heating system options as well as the heating trends in America to help you make an informed decision when looking at how to heat your own home.

Forced Air (Furnace)

Forced air heating is the most common type of heating system used in North America. It consists of a central heating system which uses a furnace to move air to distribute heat throughout the house. Ducts and vents are used to carry the heated air to different rooms of the house. The same ducts and vents can also be used in a central cooling system which is an advantage of using this type of heating system. The heat is generated through natural gas, electricity, propane or fuel oil using thermostats to control the temperature. When natural gas, oil or propane is used as the fuel for a furnace, combustion of the fuel produces heat, which is then transferred to the surrounding air using a heat exchanger. With electric furnaces, an electric heating element is used to heat the air. In either case, a main blower is turned on to blow air throughout the ductwork. When the temperature is reached, the blower turns off. This method can be quite loud, but it does heat the house efficiently and quickly. One disadvantage of this process, however, is other substances such as allergens are included with the warm air blowing throughout the house. To combat this issue, filters are installed on the furnace and can be upgraded based on individual sensitivities in order to create more filtered air.

Baseboard Heating

Baseboard heating is a type of heating that is installed along the baseboards of a room. Convection baseboard heating uses a coiled heating element within the system that heats the room. However, this element will usually cool down quickly and does not stay warm for a very long time. This is a reason why convection baseboard heaters don’t work well as the only heat source, but can be used as secondary heater in many cases. With convection style baseboard heaters, cool air is drawn into the heater, is warmed, and the lighter warmed air then rises to the top of the room. For this reason, this type of heating system works well under windows, such as in a sunroom with many windows that may always be colder than the rest of the house.

Hydronic baseboard heating is a fluid-filled type of radiator system. The heating element heats water or oil rather than the air directly. This type of system stays warmer longer, but takes longer to heat up than electric baseboard heaters. The fluid used in hydronic baseboard systems is either self-contained within the heater or stored in a central boiler system.

Unlike forced air heating, both types of baseboard heating systems take a while to heat up a whole room, around 30 minutes. However, baseboard heating is completely silent, and since there is no blowing of air, there is also no blowing of allergens such as dust, pet dander, mold, or other pollutants.

 

Heat Pumps

A heating system that works by moving heat rather than generating heat is a heat pump. This type of system can be an energy-efficient option, but works best only in climates with moderate heating and cooling needs. Electricity is used to move heat from a cool space to a warm space, much like a refrigerator. This makes the warm space warmer and the cool space cooler. In order to warm your house during cooler months, heat pumps move heat from the colder outdoors into the warm indoors of your home. During the warmer months, heat pumps move heat from your cooler house into the warmer outdoors. Heat pumps work by gathering heat from the air, water, or ground outdoors and concentrate it for use inside the home. Therefore, the three types of heat pumps are air-to-air, water source, and geothermal, respectively, with air source heat pumps being the most common.

Ductless Split System

A ductless split system is the combination of an outdoor unit (air conditioner or heat pump) with an indoor unit (furnace or air handler). A split system allows you to focus on heating specific rooms rather than the entire house, which is typically a more energy-efficient option. Split systems can be installed in almost any space within the house and tend to be less noisy than a traditional furnace. However, this type of heating system may not be adequate for most homeowner’s primary heating needs since it only heats the room in which it is installed. Split systems can also be used possibly as a secondary heating option in a space in the house which doesn’t receive adequate heat from the main heat source due to its distance from the central heating system.

Fireplace

Fireplaces are a popular choice in homes as a heating source, but most often are not used to heat an entire house. There are generally four types of fireplaces – wood-burning, gas-burning, electric, and ethanol-burning.

Wood-burning fireplaces are exactly as they sound, burning wood as the source of heat. The crackle of wood burning inside your home on a bitter cold day may sound inviting, but there are safety concerns that must be considered with this type of fireplace. Wood-burning fireplaces are potential fire hazards if improperly installed or maintained, but there are enclosed fireplaces and wood-burning stoves that can be a safer option. In addition to fire safety, your home’s air quality may be compromised by the smoke that is caused by having a wood-burning fireplace inside. Wood-burning fireplaces also require a chimney, obtaining and chopping wood, as well as cleaning ash. The chimney must be maintained and cleaned regularly, making sure that the flu is unobstructed. One must also consider the smell of smoke throughout the house that a fireplace or wood-burning stove creates. This could be pleasant or unpleasant, depending on you and your family’s sensitivity to the smoke.

Gas-burning fireplaces are cleaner than wood-burning types, but still offer the traditional look and feel of a wood-burning fireplace. These types of fireplaces are relatively easy to install, and do not require installation of a chimney. Some models are even vent-less, making them easier to add to existing structures. Real, flickering orange and yellow flames are produced complete with glowing embers and realistic logs which require no “tending to” like a wood burner. A fan is used to blow the warmed air into the room, but the fan can be turned off if it gets too warm. Temperature and heat levels are easily controlled using a remote control and can be programmed to a specific temperature. Gas fireplaces do a great job as the main heat source for a large room, but may not be able to heat an entire house, depending on the square footage.

Ethanol-burning fireplaces are similar to gas fireplaces but use a cleaner fuel source which produces no toxic residue, and a vent or chimney are not required. Ethanol fireplaces do not produce as much heat as gas fireplaces, however, and may be used mostly for ambience and décor rather than heat, but do well at heating a small room or space. A remote control can be used to ignite this type of fireplace or it can be lit manually. Ethanol fireplaces can be free-standing units or be inserted into a wall.

Electric fireplaces are heaters that use metal coils to create heat and a fan blows the warmed air into the room. Electric elements are used to emulate the glow and warmth of a real fireplace. They are easy to use and install – just plug in the appliance and turn on a switch! Electric fireplaces are generally not robust enough to heat the entire house, but it does a great job warming up a single room or space.

Geothermal Heating

Geothermal heating uses the ground to heat your home. The ground temperature remains constant regardless of the season. Water, along with an environmentally safe anti-freeze solution is pumped through a heavy-duty pipe system which is installed below ground right outside your home. During winter, heat is transferred from the ground into the underground pipe loop system and heated to a higher temperature using a heat pump. This warmed air is then used to heat your home using a traditional duct system. During summer months, this process is reversed to cool your home. This heating system is environmentally friendly since no fuel is burned to produce heat.

How Do Most Americans Heat Their Home?

The choice of primary heating equipment in the US varies with several factors, the main one being that of climate. In the colder northern regions, natural gas central furnace heating systems are the main choice. In the hot and humid southern states, electric central furnaces and heat pumps are more popular.

The following chart shows the type of heating systems chosen by Americans according to climate region:

graph of main heating equipment choice by climate region, as explained in the article text

Source: https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=30672

Secondary Heating Systems

Secondary heating systems are used in addition to the main heating system in a home to provide space heating to a targeted area or specific room. Some options for secondary heating are fireplaces, wood-burning stoves, and space heaters and electric wall heaters. Most often, secondary heating systems are used in living rooms and bedrooms during cold winter months.

Electric fireplaces are often free-standing units that can be used in colder rooms especially during the winter. It uses electric coils and a fan to blow warm air into the room or space. Wood-burning stoves can be used in a room that may be farther away from heating ducts and stay cooler than the rest of the house. They do require a chimney and regular maintenance and cleaning. Space heaters are a popular choice and are mobile so they can easily be moved from room to room. Modern space heaters are usually electric and safer than older models which used liquid fuel. Electric wall heaters are similar to space heaters but are permanently installed into the wall of a room. Rather than plugging into an outlet, the wall heaters are hard-wired and include thermostats on the device which are programmable. Wall heaters are generally easy to install and provide adequate heat for a bedroom, but they can be noisy.

The following chart shows what types of secondary heating equipment is chosen by Americans according to climate region:

graph of secondary heating equipment by region, as explained in the article text

Source: https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=30672

WAYS TO STAY WARM WITHOUT TURNING UP THE HEAT

In order to save money on heating and cooling bills, it’s important to protect your home with proper insulation and ventilation. Our team at Crossfield Heating and Cooling will conduct a free energy audit on your home by request. We can search for air leakages with a blower door test, infrared camera and physical testing. Signs of air leakage can be drafts, higher energy bills, and/or ice buildup. We can customize solutions such as spray foam, silicone seal, and weather stripping. Glass block windows are a good option to replace leaky basement windows. At the same time, glass block windows increase the safety and curb appeal of your home. They are sealed and mortared to the foundation concrete, greatly reducing air flow and making them difficult to break.

Simply managing your thermostat can help keep heating and cooling costs down. Using a programmable thermostat is helpful to manage temperatures at different intervals during the day. For instance, in cooler months the thermostat can be adjusted so the temperature is lower during the day while at work or school and then again during the night while sleeping. Even a single degree change in temperature can increase or decrease energy consumption. Alternative heating measures, including clothing and bedding adjustments, can be implemented to make up for the change in temperature if necessary.

Electric blankets can be used in bedrooms and be quite effective without turning up the furnace. However, there are safety concerns with electric blankets, especially those that are more than 10 years old. Always inspect the blankets for damaged wires and consider heating up the bed and turning off the blanket before falling asleep.